UNC and N.C. State split their four previsous meetings this season. The two rivals play Thursday night in the College World Series. The winner continues. The loser goes home. N&O reporter Joe Giglio provides several keys that could determine who goes, who stays:
N.C. State’s Brad Stone vs. UNC’s lineup
When Carlos Rodon doesn’t pitch, UNC is fairly productive this season against N.C. State, scoring 12 runs in 19 1/3 innings against Wolfpack pitchers not named Rodon (compared to four runs in 25 2/3 against Rodon).
Stone (3-2, 5.28 ERA), a freshman from Charlotte, has two postseason starts – both won by the Wolfpack – but none since the regional round against William & Mary.
The Tar Heels have scored only five runs in two games in Omaha but average 7.7 per game for the season. Colin Moran (the team’s best hitter all season) and Skye Bolt (the team’s best hitter in the NCAA tournament), with five hits between them in Tuesday’s win over LSU, showed signs of life in the CWS after going a combined 0-for-7 against Rodon on Sunday.
Stone, a lefty, hasn’t faced UNC. He was supposed to start the third game in Raleigh in April but was rained out. Since getting crushed by Florida State on May 13, he has rebounded with strong starts against Clemson in the ACC tournament and the 9-2 win over the Seminoles in the regional.
Elliott Avent is asking a lot of his freshman, against a veteran team no less, which is why you figure Avent will have senior Ethan Ogburn on standby.
UNC’s Hobbs Johnson vs. N.C. State’s lineup
Johnson, a junior lefty, started the 18-inning epic in the ACC tournament for the Tar Heels and struck out nine Wolfpack hitters in 5 1/3 innings and gave up only one run.
Johnson (4-1, 2.62 ERA) has had a mixed bag in the NCAA tournament, taking a no-hitter into the seventh in a 3-2 UNC loss to Florida Atlantic on June 2 and getting chased in a 8-0 loss to South Carolina after 1 2/3 innings on June 9.
N.C. State’s offense, which normally revolves around the top of the order and shortstop Trea Turner and first baseman Tarran Senay, has been getting production throughout the lineup this postseason. In the first two games in Omaha, 7-8-9 hitters Bryan Adametz, Jake Armstrong and Logan Ratledge are a combined 7-for-18 with four of the team’s nine RBI.
Still, Turner, who has 15 hits in 10 postseason games, has elevated his game when the Wolfpack has needed it most.
Edge: N.C. State
Freshman Trent Thornton is UNC’s best pitcher and was outstanding in the Tar Heels’ 2-1 in over the Wolfpack in the ACC tournament. He didn’t give up a hit in 6 2/3 innings and struck out seven. He leads UNC in ERA (1.37) and wins (12).
Problem is, Thornton started and won Tuesday’s 4-2 elimination game against LSU. Thornton threw 114 pitches in seven innings Tuesday. You would figure he wouldn’t pitch again Thursday night, but anything is in play.
N.C. State’s bullpen has been the team’s strength all season. Grant Sasser pitched 2 2/3 innings against UCLA but Avent hasn’t used Ryan Wilkins or Chris Overman in Omaha.
Then there’s Ogburn, who has started 12 games, who was the relief hero, tossing five scoreless innings in the 17-inning, 5-4 win over Rice in the Super Regional.
Edge: N.C. State
North Carolina has been incredibly resilient all season and especially in the postseason. Three of UNC’s 11 losses have come in a seven-game span in the NCAA tournament, but the Tar Heels refuse to go home.
N.C. State put up eight runs against UNC on Sunday but couldn’t build on the momentum from the emotional win. Now the Wolfpack has to beat the Tar Heels for a second time and without Rodon.